MP3 track of the day: Small Measure of Peace - The Last Samurai
Weather: Very cloudy in Tokyo, still quite warm though.
My guidebook had said that Japanese night buses are designed for the people who want to go to sleep. In some ways that's true, with curtains pulled, lights dimmed and the seats reclining more than normal, however the seats were some of the most uncomfortable I've ever sat in.
At 7am I arrived at Tokyo station and made my way to my hostel; I had booked myself into the same hostel that I stayed in before and so I knew where to go. I arrived at the hostel at 8am, however the doors were locked and so I had to wait until 9:30am when reception opened. Understandably my room wasn't ready at 9:30 and so I dropped my bags off and went out. I had decided that, first of all, I would return to Asakusa to purchase a souvenir that I found there on my first day within Japan (as I hadn't seen it anywhere else). Then I would head out to the area of Akihabara to check out this cheap electronic suburb. However, before heading out, I asked the lady on reception if she knew where a shop selling karate suits might be. She spent quite a while on the internet and finally found a shop located near the area of Akihabara … perfect. She then printed me a map and translated the writing to English.
As I was traveling a lot on the subway today I purchased a day ticket; my first stop, to get my souvenir, went well and I was soon on my way to find this karate suite shop. It was then that I must of had a 'brain loss' moment; due to having lots of pieces of paper within my back pocket (maps of Kyoto, flyers etc), I dumped the whole lot in a recycling bin forgetting the map to the karate suite shop was within this pile. I felt like such an idiot as I couldn't go back to the hostel and ask her for another map… luckily I had made a memory imprint of the map and, somehow, I managed to find the shop (I think) … however it was shut.
As I was close to the area of Akihabara I decided to have a look down the main street where I was confronted by huge signs, neon-lights and more electronic gadgets that you can shake a stick at. Walking down the street I noticed that most of the items on sale where games and game consoles, with a fascination on Japanese comic character computer games (like pokemon). It was all okay but honestly I was totally exhausted; stuck between the conscious thoughts of this being my last day and that I couldn't take another step I decided to have an early lunch, see if I regained some of my energy and looked through my guidebook for something else to do.
Well there wasn't anything, within my guidebook, that I really wanted to see. I was still feeling really tired and so I admitted defeat and headed back to my hostel to chill, print off my flight details for tomorrow and generally get myself sorted for my flights to Singapore. Tomorrow is going to be a long day; I need to leave the hostel at 6am to catch my 10am flight to Bangkok. I then have a six hour wait for my flight to Singapore where I land at midnight probably arriving at my hostel around 2am on the 24th November.
I've thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks in Japan; it's been very intense, due to me not having much time and the fact that everything is culturally different, but I have to say that Japan is my favorite country, to travel in, to date. Yes the cities are crammed, yes the Japanese don't know how to queue and the fact that everyone pushes past you and yet, at the same time, the people are so respectful. Train crew bow at you each and every time they enter your train carriage, people on the street bow to each other and you can't get angry as that is seen as being very disrespectful. Japanese culture is as far away from the UK culture as the countries are in miles and that's what I love about the place. There is also an ongoing harmony between the old and the new; I would have loved to have got a photo of a girl wearing a kimono texting on a mobile phone.
I've only been here for two weeks and how lucky have I been? I've seen the Dalai Lama, I've seen a fire festival that only happens once per year, I've stayed in a Ryokan, I've seen a 'coming of age' ceremony that only happens once per year, bathed in a Onsen and I got a photo of a girl in a kimono. The only things missing are purchasing a Japanese Karate suite (though they do seem to be the same as back in the UK, so I'm not too bothered about this), staying a night in a capsule hotel and I would have liked to have visited Nikko, two hours north of Toyko, but I ain't complaining.
This leads nicely into my top Japanese experiences which are...
1) Staying the night in a Ryokan – Being able to stay in a traditional Japanese house, with sliding paper doors and sleeping on the floor, is a must for any visit.
2) Miyajima – The floating gate, Itsukshima-jinja and the surrounding area was so beautiful that this was my favorite day out within Japan
3) Hiroshima Piece Park and museum – An important place to visit to grasp an idea of what an atomic weapon can do
4) Kyoto – So many beautiful temples that you could spend a week in Kyoto.
5) Autumn weather – Coming to Japan in late October / November is a must; the fiery oranges, reds and yellows within the leaves of the trees surrounding the temples just enhances the whole experience.
Below I'll go through certain aspects of Japan.
As you would imagine, Japanese hostels are well kept. They are all very clean and tidy, though due to the fact that crime in Japan is low, there aren't always lockers; also sometimes doors haven't got locks. Staff can't help you enough and are always polite and friendly. A stay in a Japanese house, called a Ryokan, is a must whilst you visit Japan.
Due to housing prices most buildings are quite tight and fitting into the toilet cubicals can be a mission.
The train system is well run, reliable and easy to use due to most signs being in English. Without a Japanese rail pass train journeys are very expensive. A Japanese rail pass is a must and you must purchase it before entering the country.
The rail pass itself is easy to use; once you exchange your voucher for a pass at a travel desk within Toyko airport (and other places around the country) you get a little panflet with the pass expiry date written in it (the date is written backwards). All you do is show this to a member of staff at the train station and they let you thought the ticket barriers … it's wicked. You can also reserve a seat, in advance, at train station ticket offices; you will usually find one Japanese member of staff who will speak enough English to get you by.
The buses are cheaper however they are less comfortable and get stuck in traffic a lot; I've only been on one ferry for ten minutes so I can't comment on that type of transport. My advice, for long distance journeys, would be to use trains and get a train pass. For intercity travel subways are the most English friendly and I can now make my way though Tokyo's subway blindfolded. Buses are the most difficult to use, however they still aren't too difficult to work out.
The weather has been hot whilst the sun has been shinning but cold once the sun goes in. I have worn my coat most of the time, which has been nice, and I will miss my coat in South East Asia. The sun sets around 5:30pm giving you short days; however, for compensation, you do get the autumn colors which is a very good deal.
I have only averaged £50.00 per day, and that was only because I haven't really been looking after the pennies ... and I've bought loads of souvenirs. Japan is notexpensive; you can pick up a meal from a local convenience store (which are open 24hrs) for £3/4 which is a bargain. It only gets expensive when you have to purchase rail journeys and that's why you need a rail pass. Anyone worried about the cost of traveling in Japan shouldn't be, it's cost me less to travel here per day than in North America
Just like in the UK and New Zealand, the people are very reserved however, if asked to help, they would try their up most even if they don't speak English. The people are lovely and, in some instances, are very respectful. However, due to blowing your nose in public being very disrespectful, its very annoying when the Japanese constantly sniff. The other annoying thing is the constant pushing and the inability to queue. However I've been bowed at, smiled at, given the up most attention and I've been walked to my accommodation. It's a strange and complex culture that, being an outsider, I can never hope to understand but it isn't half interesting to watch it unfold everywhere you turn.
Another interesting thing is that very young children play out at night without fear of anything bad happening to them; the continuation of this low crime society gives a kind of ignorance to potential problems other societies face. For example strangers are free to photograph other peoples children (whilst wearing kimonos), as there isn't anything wrong with this over here.
It's great coming from New Zealand, where everything closes at 8pm, to find convenience stores and vending machines in operation 24hrs a day. Even the post office is open on a Sunday. This retail infrastructure makes finding food or drink, at anytime, not a problem. Expecting somewhere open at anytime is something that I'm going to have to get out of the habit when I get to South East Asia.
As mentioned, the rail and subway infrastructure is extremely good, however the roads are very congested. This is why there are thousands of people riding bicycles (which aren't locked up when parked) in every direction imaginable. It was quite strange at first, seeing all these cyclists, as I thought Japan was a well developed nation. However, after a while, it made perfect sense and its the quickest way to travel within a Japanese city.
The food is extremely cheap and lovely. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Japanese cuisine is not all about fish, and I have mostly stuck to chicken as I'm not a massive fish fan (in fact, the most fish I've eaten was on the plane trip to Japan). Also the Japanese do a great line of pastries for breakfast and cakes for pudding … I do like the cakes over here.
The Japanese drive on the left however I wouldn't recommend driving due to the amount of traffic, lack of road names and the tiny streets that you sometimes have to travel down. At first I thought that these small streets (of which make up 90% of Japanese cities) were pedestrianized, however they are actually shared with vehicles, bikes and pedestrians.
Would I come back?
Tomorrow! Seriously if I don't like South East Asia I'm on the first flight back. Anyone want a guide … I'll do it!
Would I recommend Japan to others?
Yes; Japan is not for people who want to chill on holiday. Japan is an intense, but rewarding, cultural experience that everyone should taste. It is so interesting that I can't begin to describe it in words.
Japan has been my first Asian country and if the rest of Asia is like this ... bring it on! I've loved my time here so much that I have constantly battled with myself as to whether I should extend my time in Japan. However without a rail pass (which you can only apply for out of the country) it would be very expensive for me to move around. Once home, I can see myself thumbing through my Japan guidebook more than any other with the ambition of heading north, along the east coast of Japan and then back down south along the west coast.
Tomorrow I start my epic journey to Singapore, getting up at 5am and arriving at 2am the following day. Tonight I need to repack my bag and get an early night … however there is a group of other travelers here who are going out tonight to get hammered … hope I'm not sharing a dorm with them!
So for the final time, arigato and sayonara!
P.S. As I will be flying all of tomorrow there won't be an update until, probably, the day after when I recuperate.